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What’s next for the Celtics?

07.14.10 at 2:34 pm ET

LAS VEGAS — Out here in the steamy desert, it’s been difficult to keep track of all the coming and goings. One day, New Orleans general manager Jeff Bower is sitting in the stands watching the action at summer league. The next day various Hornets assistants were scrambling for an impromptu meeting in the same section to discuss what they’re going to do now that they don’t have a general manager anymore.

The free agent market typically has a defined rhythm to it. The top players go first, along with a handful of role players who actually set the market — Drew Gooden, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, etc. Then come the secondary players along with the sign-and-trades and restricted free agents.

This can take as long as a month, but in the wake of ‘The Decision’ things have happened at a breakneck pace. When LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer and Amar’e Stoudemire signed with new teams, they didn’t just take their talents with them. They also left parting gifts in the form of trade exemptions, which shifted cap space from one franchise to another.

So while the Heat, Bulls, Knicks and Nets have used their cap space to varying degrees, the Raptors, Suns and Jazz have also remade their teams.

(Somewhat hilariously, the Timberwolves picked up up a sizable trade exception after they gave away Al Jefferson to Utah. The only problem is, they can’t use it unless they are over the cap. They used some of that cap space on Luke Ridnour and now seem intent on giving away Ramon Sessions, who they signed last year. There appears to be no method to the madness that is [David] Kaaaaahn.)

While all this has gone down, the Celtics have basically been forced to sit and watch with nothing but the veteran minimum left to offer.

Danny Ainge did almost all of his work before July 8 when he agreed to contracts with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and used the full mid-level exception on Jermaine O’Neal. The consensus out in Vegas is that the Celtics did well with those deals, particularly with O’Neal who will probably have to start at center for most of the season while Kendrick Perkins rehabs from his knee surgery.

But the Memphis Grizzlies threw them a curveball when they signed Tony Allen to a three-year deal. The issue wasn’t the money. It was the years. Having lived with T.A. for this long, they felt that three years was just too long to commit to a player with his inconsistencies and injury history.

The minimum offer from the Celtics has more cache then say, the minimum offer from the Pacers, because they can also offer a chance to play for a championship with a universally respected coach like Doc Rivers. But, money is money and there is still some of it out there to grab before the market settles back down.

So, where do they go from here? The operative word from people here in Vegas is time, as in it will take some before the market comes back to them. 

For now, the Celtics have nine players under contract who are expected to be with them next year: The starting five, plus O’Neal, Glen Davis, Avery Bradley and Semih Erden. They also have rights on Oliver Lafayette, Tony Gaffney and second round pick Luke Harangody.

Because they haven’t had to renounce any of their free agents, they also have Bird rights on Marquis Daniels, Michael Finley and Brian Scalabrine, as well as partial rights on Nate Robinson. The Nuggets have reportedly come to terms with Shelden Williams, which eliminates him from the equation.

Here are three ways the Celtics can go:

1. Re-sign Nate Robinson

Because they acquired him at the trading deadline, the Celtics can offer Robinson as much as $6 million, which would be a lot of money for a backup guard. For reference, Blake and Ridnour signed four-year deals for around $16 million.

Robinson would help address two needs: backup point guard and scoring off the bench, but he is likely to take his time and see if there are any longer, or more lucrative, deals to be had.

He and the Celtics remain on each other’s radar screen and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him return, but as they already proved with Tony Allen, the Celtics wants to retain flexibility beyond the next two seasons.

2. Fill out the wing

This is the obvious area of need where the Celtics have no veteran depth behind Ray Allen and Pierce. There are still a handful of veterans who are in play. None are perfect fits, which is why they have kicked the tires on Adam Morrison out here.

They have also shown interest in one-time All-Star Josh Howard, whose career has nosedived since he injured his knee. Howard is typical of many players still available in that he may get a larger offer than the minimum, particularly if the Magic match Chicago’s offer sheet for restricted free agent J.J. Redick.

Other options include players like Antoine Wright and Rasual Butler who would have to agree to play for the minimum.

Butler is a better shooter while Wright is younger and may have some development potential left. Both can play either wing spot.

Harangody showed ability in the Orlando summer league, but you would expect that from a four-year college player with his track record. Whether he can do that in the fall remains to be seen. Daniels could be brought back, but his experience last season wasn’t ideal for either side.

If Al Harrington can get five years from the Nuggets, don’t expect anyone to come rushing for the minimum just yet.

3. Trade Rasheed Wallace’s contract

This is the biggest wild card left in Ainge’s deck. There were rumblings that Wallace might be rethinking his decision to retire, but those have cooled off a bit in the last week. If he is certain to retire, and if he is willing to do so without taking a buyout, his contract could be moved to a team looking to clear either cap space or payroll to avoid the luxury tax.

There was some mutual interest from the Suns in the rumored Leandro Barbosa swap, but that opportunity came and went when Barbosa was traded to the Raptors.

Keep in mind that the Celtics could package Wallace with one of their free agents in a sign-and-trade to bring a player, or players back from any such deal.

One player who could be acquired straight-up for Wallace is old friend James Posey. There are caveats, however.

Posey has not played well since leaving the Celtics and he has two years left on his contract. The Hornets have also worked their way under the luxury tax and as noted earlier, they also don’t have a GM and appear to be in complete chaos.

Another option for Wallace’s contract is turn it into a trade exception.

We are only a week into the free agency signing period and already the NBA landscape has shifted dramatically several times. The 2010-11 Celtics are almost complete, but the finishing touches will simply have to wait.

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